Luke 1:46-55, James 5:7-10, Isaiah 35:1-10
There we were, Jacob and I, sitting in the jurors’ lounge waiting to get called in to wait to see if we will get picked to serve on a jury. Jacob brought a hymnal. I brought a Bible. If we are going to be waiting we might as well be preparing for Sunday. We weren’t sure if having a hymnal and Bible in such a process increased or decreased our desirability as jurors. Given the public role of “Christianity” and Christmas in American public life and politics one might think that our preparing for an Advent service—essentially a pre-Christmas special—would make us ideal candidates for such a task. That is however, until you read the passages. Mary—the mother of Jesus—what the Orthodox call the Mother of God—the God carrier turns out to be a radical. Her song announcing the coming of Jesus sounds pretty much revolutionary. It has little to do with Christmas lights or tinsel and even has doubtful connections to the more positive family gatherings and Christmas carols. Mary and her people have been waiting. Then Mary sings a song.
The Lord be praised. The rich tossed down. The lowly lifted up.
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
There she was—waiting. Mary is living under an occupying force. She has waited. She is repressed politically, religiously, and culturally. She has waited. Her people have waited. Her hope is in God. Though her hope is in God it is not a sentimental piety. It is not a passive belief that in that “in the end all things will turn out alright” because of some sort of benign generally good fatalism that says in the end—whether good or bad—we all get what we deserve. Mary sees herself as part of the story of Israel. The Hebrew Scriptures—what Christians have often called the Old Testament—begins in the beginning—God created, move through the introduction of violence—brother kills brother, the dispersing of the peoples due to pride, the calling of the people who eventually be a Israel, were enslaved in Egypt and waited, through kings who were tyrants and waited, through the prophets which called the people to repentance from injustice and false worship, and into a great silence of hundreds of years. The people of God were left in silence. For us we end with the prophets, turn the page, and begin with the Gospel of Matthew. This was not the experience “on the ground.” The people waited for a word from God. The people waited through changing times and displacement. They waited on God [such waiting is quite unlike the waiting Jacob and I experienced].
Our passages also include James. This may be more relevant for the potential jurors—have patience. Jacob and I were waiting, so being told to have patience seems quite relevant. This is not patience in the face of boredom however; it is patience in the face of suffering. It is not any suffering but suffering that if one reads a few verses earlier is caused by injustice caused by the rich which is challenged in no uncertain terms. Patience is exhorted but James it not particularly patient with the perpetrators of injustice. There they were—waiting.
“Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”
“Therefore” points us back. Just before is a judgment on those who oppress. James, however, is writing to those on the receiving end. Though the judgment is there for those for whom it is relevant, James’ main audience seems to be those who are oppressed. There are several other points in this book where the divisions between the rich and the poor are evident. The readers are instructed to not show favoritism or differentiation when someone who appears wealthy shows up in their gathering they should not treat in a preferential way. For a community struggling to survive this impulse is of course natural.
The writer also writes that even the wealthy will vanish like the fragile flowers of the field. One’s wealth does not save. God saves. James exhorts, “Be patient.” In the same way that farmers wait for the rain and sun that are both necessary for successful growing and also outside the farmers control, the Christian is also to be patient—Waiting until the “coming of the Lord.” While waiting, the waiter is to strengthen her heart. While waiting, the waiter is to strengthen his heart. Strengthen the heart in the knowledge that the Lord’s coming is near. There is an immanence to the salvation of God. We are on the brink of the full reconciliation. We are on the cusp of peace that is imbued with justice that is upheld by the glory of God. Advent acknowledges this imminence. Advent marks this nearness. Advent is the preparation of the way for the season that welcomes again the coming of Jesus, God with us, the overturning of expectations. The Lord be praised. The powerful tossed down. The lowly lifted up.
Here we are-waiting. Advent is also waiting. Waiting can be forced—impatient, restless. Waiting can also be marked by apathy—a sort of biding one’s time or without expectation and with despair. Waiting can also be indecisive, a type of paralysis in the face of the uncertain or a flood of tasks or the magnitude of the work before us.
James encourages the reader—wait patiently on the Lord. As the farmer waits for the rain which nourishes the crop, we are to wait for the Lord who nourishes and sustains us. We are to wait for the Lord who nourishes us, providing life and growth, providing wisdom and courage. In some ways this may be taking the long view—God who is also pictured as the judge will judge rightly and vindicate the suffering.
Mary, the soon-to-be mother of Jesus, also has been waiting. Mary has been waiting and her people have been waiting but now the waiting is nearing the end. God, the Lord, is the savior and shows mercy. The Lord lifts up the lowly and brings down the mighty. The waiting is been expectant. Waiting with agitation. The end of the waiting is within sight.
Wait with expectation.
Wait with agitation for the overturning of expectations—for the overturning of injustice.